I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Romans 7:15

For He says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

II Corinthians 6:2

We’ve all had the experience of doing something that we really don’t want to do, but we do it anyway. As an example, there is a jar of jellybeans on our desk, and we say to ourselves “I’ll just have a few of these.” We even count them out, let’s say ten. What’s the harm in ten jellybeans. And then we say to ourselves, “What’s ten more?” Then we get frustrated with ourselves, and we say, “Why am I doing this? I don’t even really like jellybeans.” But then we tell ourselves “I will do ten more and that’s for sure it.” And before we know it, the whole jar is devoured, we feel sick, and we are annoyed with ourselves. We all do this, it’s just that the thing might be jellybeans, or M&Ms, or it might be “I’ll just look at ESPN.com for two minutes”, which becomes an hour, we all know the story. We all have things that we do that we don’t really want to do. Very few people will set out to eat to the point of feeling sick. People who are focused do not really want to lose momentum, but then we do.

Saint Paul writes a verse that resonates very well with many of us: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15) I hate the fact that I can eat a whole jar of jellybeans. I hate doing it. I hate how I feel after doing it. I hate myself for doing it. And yet I keep doing it. Am I this unfocused? Am I this addicted to jellybeans? (Truth be told, I do not like jellybeans, but M&Ms is where the real problem lies for me, especially the peanut ones. I even rationalize that there is protein in the peanuts so how bad can they really be.) We all have something we do that we hate ourselves for doing, we hate that we do it, we hate how we feel after we do it, but then we still do it. This is yet another reason why the Bible is so good and so timeless, because there are things in there that sum up every feeling and every circumstance in our lives, including this obscure verse in Romans 7.

There is a beautiful quote attributed to St. Anthony, who lived in the fourth century. He writes:

Every day I say to myself, today I will begin.
My job is not to judge.
My job is not to figure out if someone deserves something.
My job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broke, and to heal the people in pain.
That’s why I must start my job today by judging myself. 

One of the mottos of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is “one day at a time.” People who are struggling with addiction do not pledge to never drink again for the rest of their lives. That is too long of a time to wrap one’s head around. They make a daily pledge not to drink today. This is the way to face all addictions really—whether that is an addiction to pornography or jellybeans or sin in general. We are all addicted to some kind of sin, because we all can’t stop sinning.

It may not be possible to go a day or even an hour without sinning. But we can go for a moment without sin. It may be impossible to go our whole life without making a bad food choice, but we can certainly make good choices over the course of a day. It might not be possible to not lose focus at some point, either because we are distracted or simply overwhelmed, but it is possible to be present for a short period of time.

One beautiful thing about Christianity is that we can jump back into proper behavior at any time, just like the Prodigal Son came home and was restored immediately. We can take the quote from St. Anthony and say to ourselves “Today I will begin,” or if we’ve already messed up today, we can say to ourselves “At this moment I will begin.” Instead of rationalizing “only ten more jellybeans” or “only five more clicks on the internet,” let’s change the tune to “Today I will begin” and focus on the proper behavior that is not only right in the eyes of God, but the behavior that we know is right in our own conscience.

We also put off getting serious about our faith. We tell ourselves that we’ll get focused when Lent starts, and we don’t. We tell ourselves that we will get more focused during Holy Week, then we move the starting point to Pascha, then Pentecost and before we know it, another year has gone by and we are still in the same place spiritually. “Today I will begin” works not only for correcting bad habit, but it works when it comes to focusing on our spiritual growth. If you aren’t used to praying, begin today. Don’t wait for Holy Week or Pascha or next Lent. If you weren’t focused at all this Lent, get things in order today and start the journey today. If you haven’t opened a Bible in a while, do it today.

Saint Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, For He says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation.  We don’t have to wait for Holy Week, or Pascha, or Christmas or any other day. Any day is a good day to begin working on our salvation.

Tomorrow Holy Week begins, and this is the greatest chance for an infusion of spirituality. It is a great way to build some spiritual momentum. Personally, my schedule dictates that I will be in church for many hours a day, many days in a row. That means that there will be less screen time, less meals, less conversations, less gossip, and more focus on Scripture, more opportunities for the Eucharist, more opportunities to offer friendly greetings to people and so many more positive opportunities. Eight days of Holy Week provides to build up some momentum, whether one is sailing along or needs a kick-start or a re-start, or one have never started. So, begin today by getting your calendar cleared as much as possible so you can take full spiritual advantage of the journey that starts tomorrow. And as you go along, focus on managing one day, one hour, even one thought at a time, so you can stop doing the things you don’t want to do and start doing the things that God wants you to do.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
O Son of David, with Your word You healed the possessed: take pity on me, save me and have mercy. Let me hear Your compassionate voice speak to me as to the Robber: “Truly, I say to you, you shall be with Me in Paradise, when I come in My glory.”
Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
A robber accused You, a robber confessed Your Godhead: for both were hanging beside You on the Cross. Open to me also, O Lord of many mercies, the door of Your glorious Kingdom, as once it was opened to Your robber who acknowledged You with faith as God.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Nine, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Begin TODAY!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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